Wannarat: Nuclear safety needs serious review

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Bangkok Post 18 March 2011

By Yuthana Praiwan

Energy Minister Wannarat Channukul yesterday broke his silence on plans for Thailand's first nuclear power plant scheduled to operate from 2020, admitting the project should be reviewed by energy policy planners.

As concern grows about the possible spread of radiation from the Japanese nuclear disaster, Mr Wannarat said the panel in charge of Thailand's 20-year power development plan (PDP) from 2010-30 must look more closely at safety measures and new technology that could handle serious accidents.

"We [Thailand] are still in the feasibility study stage and have yet to make a definite decision on whether to build nuclear power plants. What has happened in Japan should be taken as a case study in safety measures," he said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency recently advised the Energy Ministry that Thailand is not yet ready for a nuclear power plant, as three salient issues must still be addressed.

They are relevant laws and a supervisory regulator, public awareness and acceptance of nuclear power, and adoption of an international protocol.

"We still have 10 years to decide on this, so we should thoughtfully study the Japanese incident and new technology that would help to protect against devastating earthquakes and tsunamis," said Mr Wannarat.

The PDP, which was reviewed last April, calls for nuclear energy to account for 11% of power generation by 2030, with lignite and imported coal making up 24%, natural gas 39%, purchases from neighbouring countries 20% and renewable energy 6%.

Natural gas currently accounts for 72% of all fuel used in power generation in Thailand, followed by coal at 20%, domestic hydropower 5% and imported power from Laos 2%.

The PDP calls for five nuclear power plants with capacity of 1,000 megawatts each to come online from 2020-28 and new coal-fired plants producing a combined 8,000 MW from 2016-30.

Norkhun Sitthipong, the permanent secretary for energy, agreed the ministry should revise the PDP to reflect the current situation, particularly regarding nuclear power.

"We must have a Plan B in case people say no to nuclear power or imported coal, or else the new nuclear and coal development plan will need to be delayed," said Mr Norkhun.

Other options instead of nuclear power include increases in liquefied natural gas imports and power purchases from neighbouring countries, along with more intensive development of small power producers and renewable energy.